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About Chris Schluep

Chris Schluep spent more than a dozen years editing books in New York before moving west. He takes great pride in reading a wide range of books and connecting interested readers with the books they'll love. Chris lives in Seattle with his wife and son, and he feels like he may have one of the best jobs in the world.

Posts by Chris

Amazon Asks: Jason Mott, Author of "The Returned"


Jason Mott has a lot to be happy about. His novel The Returned received multiple starred reviews. It hit the New York Times best seller list. And ABC Studios picked up television rights, with the show already slated for the 2013-2014 midseason. USA Today describes the book as "a tense and touching treatise on life, death and life again, centered on an aging couple dealing with the resurrection of their 8-year-old boy nearly 50 years after he drowned in a river."

We reached out to the author, who is currently on tour, with our "Amazon Asks" questions. Read on to learn more about him. (Who knew Jason Mott was a die-hard fanboy?)


Describe your book in 10 words or less?

A family is given a second chance at life and love.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Favorite books of all time?  

Grendel by John Gardner, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Epic of Beowulf (various translations).

Book that made you want to become a writer?  

Grendel by John Gardner gave me “permission to write.”

Most memorable author moment? 

Speaking with a woman who told me how The Returned helped her cope with the loss of her mother.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I’d love to be able to read minds.

What are you obsessed with now?

B movies. I’ve always been obsessed with them, and now I love how they’re getting so much attention.  When SHARKNADO took over Twitter, that was hilarious.

What are you stressed about now?

Just trying to keep up with life on the road during the book tour.

What are you psyched about now?

I’ve started working on a new writing project, and that always excites me.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

A copy of one of the first short stories I ever wrote.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

What's next for you? 

My editor and I have just started revising my next novel manuscript. And I’m also playing with a screenplay. Hopefully that’ll lead somewhere.

What's the last dream you remember?

Honestly, I had a dream about being interviewed. I think it’s the byproduct of being on a book tour.

Favorite line?

“Let me live in greatness or courage, or here in this hall welcome my death.” – The Epic of Beowulf

Favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

B movies. Just can’t get enough of them.

What do you collect?

Comic books. I’m a die-hard fanboy.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

When my superhero-themed poetry collection came out, someone actually sent me some old Superman comics along with a very personal note about what the comics meant to them.  It was incredibly thoughtful.

Amazon Asks: Nicholas Sparks


Nicholas Sparks' The Longest Ride was published just over a week ago and will soon be landing on best seller lists near you. We caught up with the mega-best-selling author to learn a little bit more him.

Describe your book in 10 words or less?  

Epic love story, crossed with college-girl-meets-cowboy.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Loved Lauren Grodstein’s A Friend of the Family and Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat.

Favorite books of all time? 

Emperor of the Air by Ethan Canin, The Power Broker by Robert Caro, The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy, and Lisi’s Story by Stephen King.

Book that made you want to become a writer?   

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Catch-22  by Joseph Heller, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and all of the works of Stephen King.

Most memorable author moment?   

Hearing Warner Books’ offer to publish my first novel, The Notebook.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?  

Uncanny good luck.

Sparks-Nicholas-2013aWhat are you obsessed with now?

My Foundation (

What are you stressed about now? 

Wondering how deep the creative well really is.

What are you psyched about now?

Readers’ reactions to my latest novel, The Longest Ride.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My wife of course, but I would hardly refer to her as a possession. As far as material items go, perhaps the ring I recently bought for her.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

What's next for you?

I have two feature films based on my novels slated to go into production in February 2014, a TV pilot shooting this November, and I’m working on writing two novels simultaneously.

What's the last dream you remember?

I’d rather not say.

Favorite line?

Plan and prepare for the downside, while working hard and intelligently . . . and the upside will take care of itself.

Favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?  

Reading! I read 150 books a year.

What do you collect? 


Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

A letter from a 14 year-old girl, written in such a distinctive, elegant and polished voice that it made me feel as if I had known this girl her entire life!


(Photo Credit: Nina Subin)


>Visit the Nicholas Sparks author page.


"Their War Had Become an After-War" - David Finkel Discusses "Thank You for Your Service"

519pIIEpK4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Some books just sneak up on you and you're never the same after. I'd heard very little about David Finkel's Thank You for Your Service before reading it, and I hadn't read his previous book, The Good Soldiers, so my expectations were muted going into it. That changed quickly. This book is so personal, so moving, that I devoured it. Although the subject matter is difficult, you grow with the book as you read. One might even expect it to be a little dry and boringit is not. David Finkel's nonfiction account of soldiers returning from combat is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I'll leave you with this blurb from author Katherine Boo, who couldn't have summarized my reading of the book (and hopefully yours) any better:

“I’m urging everyone I know to give Thank You for Your Service just a few pages, a few minutes out of their busy lives. The families honored in this urgent, important book will take it from there.” —Katherine Boo, National Book Award–winning author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Read on for an interview with David Finkel  


Chris Schluep: Describe your research. How much time did you spend with the returned soldiers in the book?

David Finkel: The short answer is a year and a half, but the more accurate answer is ever since early 2007. I say that because my research really started when I embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion during its fifteen-month deployment to eastern Baghdad during the Iraq War “surge” of 2007-2008. The story of what happened to those soldiers became my first book, The Good Soldiers, and The Good Soldiers is what allowed and informed Thank You For Your Service, which is the second volume of the story. In Iraq, I was with Adam Schumann on the day he so guiltily left the war, and Tausolo Aieti on the day he was blown up and his dreams began. I met Nic DeNinno there and was there on the day that James Doster died. After The Good Soldiers was published in 2009, it became clear that the story was only partly told. So many of the soldiers, home now, and so many of their families, were tipping over so many edges. Their war had become an after-war, and so I began traveling to Kansas, where the 2-16 is based, to see what I might be able to write. That brings me back to the short answer of eighteen months, which was how long I spent with the Schumanns, the Aietis, the DeNinnos, the surviving family of James Doster, and the rest of the people documented in Thank You For Your Service. That’s how long it took for me to feel confident that the story I’d be writing would feel true to a reader and true to them as well.


CS: When did you decide that Thank You For Your Service should be the title? Was it always the working title? What were your thoughts behind naming it that?

DF: I had a different title in mind when I was writing the book. Let’s just say it had the phrase “suicide room” in it, and when I mentioned it to someone at the publishing house, the reaction was: “That’s terrific. By the way, are you trying to put us out of business?” Or something like that. The reaction was better when I suggested Thank You For Your Service. Everyone liked it immediately – my editor, my agent, the folks in publicity -- except, for some time, me. I was concerned that people would think I was being sarcastic, or ironic, or bitter, or that I was expressing my own sugary gratitude. Instead of it being a title that would reflect the journalism inside the covers, I worried that it would instead be seen as reflecting an opinion of mine, and I’ve tried hard in Thank You For Your Service to keep any hint of my opinion out of the work. What finally turned it for me was coming up with an answer that, if I were asked about the title, would neatly explain my intentions: These are some of the people you’re thanking, and this is what you’re thanking them for.


CS: Did your opinion of the war and the people in it change between writing The Good Soldiers and writing this book?

DF: Well, I try hard to keep my opinions out of my work, and I’m reluctant to bring opinion into the mix now. To me, the emphasis should be on the soldiers and their families because they were – and are – the ones in the midst of it. Can I recast the question to: Have their opinions changed between coming home from the war in 2008 and now? The answer: absolutely, although I can only speak anecdotally, based on the people I’ve spent time with. It’s worth emphasizing that they are among the wounded ones and that most of the people deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are unwounded and presumably doing fine. Among the subset of the mentally wounded, though, which has been estimated at between 20 and 30 percent of the two million U.S. troops who have been deployed into the two wars, which works out to roughly 500,000 or so people, one of the profound changes in them is reflected in this line from the book: “while the truth of war is that it’s always about loving the guy next to you, the truth of the after-war is that you’re on your own.” In other words, in addition to the grief and guilt so many of these people carry, there’s also a widening sense of isolation and lonesomeness, which has led to an ever-deepening wondering of what their war was all about. Their initial sense of mission is largely gone, replaced by in some cases anger and in many cases a churning feeling of bewilderment.


CS: How did writing the book change you?

DF: Since I’m now nearly seven years older than when I began these books, maybe these changes would have happened anyway, but I’m probably a little sadder than I used to be, and also more grateful than I used to be. What else? I like ending a day with wine on my front porch more than I used to. I like shenanigans less than I used to. I grew up in a house where the threat of suicide was present for several years, so it's been interesting to revisit that. I think of war now not only intellectually but viscerally. I dream about it sometimes, but not as much as I did. I’m glad my friends now include soldiers, and that their friends now include someone like me. 


CS: Who specifically would you hope would read the book? Congressmen? The president? Soldiers returning from war? Everyday citizens? Why?

DF: After The Good Soldiers was published, I began getting letters and emails from soldiers, eventually in the hundreds, that said some version of: When I came home from the war, everyone wanted to know what it was like, and I couldn't talk about it, and I still can't talk about it, but now I can give people your book and tell them that if they read it they’ll know what it was like and why I can’t talk about it.

As you can imagine, those were some pretty great messages to get. I have no idea who will read Thank You For Your Service, but whoever they are, I’d like for the book to reach them at a similarly deep and lasting level. I have no illusions about this book. Even if its readers include the president, members of Congress, and the rest of official Washington, it won’t change war policy. A book about the after-war won’t change war. But an author can have some hope, right? Maybe it will affect how people think about the after-war. Thank You For Your Service is about some wonderful people – all of them wounded and angry and sad and funny, and all of them trying to get better as hard as human beings can try. Here they are, in this book, not to be honored, which, believe me, all of them can see through, but hoping to be seen and heard. That’s their hope in this. As for mine, I’m hoping that anyone who reads Thank You For Your Service will realize that such stories are happening not only between the covers of a book but across our war-weary country, are in fact happening right now. Wars end, but the after-war doesn’t, which, if you’ll forgive the corniness, is the story I wanted to tell.



Kim Stanley Robinson on his Latest Novel "Shaman"

41PZTKuxu9LKim Stanley Robinson's latest novel Shaman is set 30,000 years in the past, and is about a 14-year-old boy named Loon, who has been orphaned and taken under the wing of a shaman. Loon is on a journey to become a manand a shaman himselfand the book may have a transformative effect on you as well. The world of Loon is extraordinarily well-realized. There's something very authentic about this novel. In fact, Alan Cheuse had this to say when he reviewed the book for NPR:

"Maybe it's because the world he creates feels so authentic and complete, but for several nights running, something happened to me that's never happened to me before, in all the years I've been reading novels. I dreamed I was living in Loon's world, traveling in the same tribe, along streams and rivers, through forest and over hills in an ancient state of mind."

Kim Stanley Robinson was recently in Seattle, so I sat down with him to talk about the book:

Author Scott Anderson on "Lawrence in Arabia"


This summer, I met the author Scott Anderson at The Half King, the New York bar that he co-owns with Sebastian Junger. We were there to talk about his book Lawrence in Arabia, which was published this August, and I was thrilled to sit across from Scott and listen to him talk about a book that had kept me reading during many a late night.

The book was eventually selected as an Amazon Best Book of August—and just today it recieved a rave review from The New York Times. Janet Maslin says of it, "a fascinating book, the best work of military history in recent memory and an illuminating analysis of issues that still loom large today."

During World War I, the course of the modern day Middle East was set by a handful of young, low-ranking actors who exerted oversized influence on the region. In Lawrence in Arabia, Anderson focuses on four men: a minor German diplomat and spy, an American oilman descended from the Yale family, a Romanian-born agronomist, and T.E. Lawrence himself. Each character seems to have been plucked from a novel, none moreso than Lawrence himself, who comes across as both human and superhuman at the same time. He did so much to set the course for that region, and seemed to know it so well, that I asked Anderson what T.E. Lawrence would say if he were plopped down in the Middle East today. Scott's answer isn't in the video, but after thinking for a moment, Anderson replied, I told you so.

See the video here:


Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food


It can be argued that photographer Christopher Boffoli has one of the cooler jobs in the world, as evidenced by his new book Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food. We reached out to Boffoli to learn more about the photos he takes and where he gets the ideas behind them. Read on to see what he had to say about his work on Big Appetites (the book publishes on 9/10):



I’m sure the original genesis for my Big Appetites photographs was in all of the media I consumed when I was growing up. Not only was the concept of mixing scale between characters and their environment a frequent plot device in movies like the Incredible Shrinking Woman and television shows like Dr. Shrinker, but it was all over advertising as well, from the Keebler elves to the Pillsbury doughboy to the Ralston Purina chuck wagon that would get chased by a dog from room to room. Scale juxtaposition is really an old idea that goes back to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in the 18th century. And mankind’s obsession with miniatures goes back even farther if you consider all of the tiny ancient artifacts that one can find in museums around the world. In a more contemporary sense, I saw a couple of art exhibits in late 2002 that catalyzed my interest in working with scale figures in art. I chose food as a backdrop because I thought it offered beautiful color and texture. My serendipitous choice to employ what is essentially toy figures and food gave the work a power I did not foresee as these two components are among most common things in just about every culture in the world. Everyone can identify with toys from childhood. And whether you eat with a fork, chopsticks or your fingers, food is accessible to people cross-culturally. I’m sure those choices were the basis of how enthusiastically received these images have been around the world.

Zesty Mower: People frequently ask how long it takes to shoot one of these photographs. The answer is that it varies. Sometimes setting them up and getting them right can be tedious. But this was a case with an idea that came to me spontaneously and was quickly and easily shot. Sometimes I spend a lot of time working on images that don’t end up with a successful result. With Zesty Mower, it was a simple idea that ended up as a popular and well-received image. Sometimes you just have a feeling that an image is right. At other times you only know when you put it out in the world and see how people respond to it.


Macaron Team: I always try to shoot with food that is fresh and in season. In this case, I sourced these beautiful macarons from a French bakery just a couple of blocks from my studio. All of my photographs are accompanied by a caption that reinforces the action and humor in the images. For this one, I had the idea that one of the bakers would step forward and take the credit for everyone else’s work. It is more fun for me – and hopefully for the viewer too – to have the figures be given a bit of a character arc.

Continue reading "Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food" »

Jess Walter Interviews Amy Grace Lloyd, Debut Author of "The Affairs of Others"


Amy Grace Lloyd's novel The Affairs of Others, which Entertainment Weekly described as a "mesmerizing debut," is the story of a woman who buys a small Brooklyn apartment building following the death of her husband. As the tale unfolds, she is drawn further into her tenants' lives, but that's just the start of it. Jess Walter, author of the acclaimed novel Beautiful Ruins, got together with Amy Grace Lloyd to ask her some questions:

Jess Walter: Your protagonist, Celia, has been a widow for five years. She is a character of such conflicted desires—the profound need to grieve alone vs. the impulse to care for her tenants. Her voice, her sense of self, is so immediate (“The body of a woman aging …”) Do you recall how she came to you?

Amy Grace Lloyd:  The novel’s first sentence came as an invitation to me (and I hope it will to readers) to be inside a story in which an older woman, like Hope, compels for her complexity, her resilient beauty, her desires, even the dark ones. Yes, my narrator Celia’s voice, her way of seeing the world, was a welcome counter to all I was living at the time as the fiction editor at Playboy in New York.  My job required a lot of outreach, persuading writers and literary agents to the magazine’s literary merits despite its other content.  Celia’s stated need to be separate, her resignation about life and love, and her defiance of convention and celebration of boundaries was a refuge and a sort of wish fulfillment. I’ve lived in New York City and in Brooklyn in particular for a long time, longer than I imagined or hoped, and I’ve spent much of it trying to find a healthy balance between solitude and engagement with others, between quiet and the noise of city life, always streaming, beating on the walls.  I’ve not always succeeded – neither does Celia. She’s walking a tightrope between control and surrender, good behavior and sometimes very bad behavior.  She’s a lot hungrier than she’ll admit and that longing in her, both to preserve what’s hers and to touch and be touched, physically and emotionally, disrupts her plans and drives a lot of the story.

JW:  You’ve lived in Brooklyn for years. Does Celia’s brownstone in The Affairs of Others—on one floor, an old ferryboat captain, on another, a “modern couple, teeming with plans”—reflect your feelings about the place?


AGL:  Because she’s a landlady and has chosen her tenants, Celia has had a lot more say over who lives  next-door or over her head than I’ve ever had, but even with that greater latitude, she can’t keep her tenants’ lives from impacting her, from setting off her longing.  She’s drawn to each of her tenants in different ways – a voyeur of their lives and histories. She wants to observe it all from safe remove, but try as she may, she can’t keep the chaos out. My urban life has been full of all sorts of detours – garbage trucks heaving outside my window, neighbors making noisy love or having a quarrel or a party to all hours, keeping me up all night, another neighbor who exercises at dawn above my head, yet another who needs his spare set of keys or complains because I vacuum my floors too early on Saturday.  Living in the city is a collaboration with the unexpected a lot of the times, and it works on the imagination in exciting and dark ways.

JW:  When Hope arrives in the building, she tests Celia’s careful boundaries. What is it about her character that wakes Celia from her long sleep?

AGL:  Hope has just left her husband of twenty plus years because he’s fallen in love with someone else. Celia recognizes in her the startled sorrow, the impulse toward self-destruction, that longing, longing, longing for something lost and probably unrecoverable. Hope starts an affair with an old friend just as she moves into Celia’s building and Celia is privy to so much of the gymnastics and utterances, to encounters that become every day more violent. Celia knows the violence of sudden loss, of dislocation, even about violence she herself invited, to her own flesh, when her husband first died; she knows all this better than most, and she can’t help but be drawn in, insinuate herself in events and eventually try to save Hope.

Continue reading "Jess Walter Interviews Amy Grace Lloyd, Debut Author of "The Affairs of Others"" »

Elmore Leonard Dies at 87

C829d850ada0bf1fd9c25210.L._V192274314_SX200_Elmore Leonard died Tuesday in his Michigan home surrounded by his family. He was 87 years old and had suffered a stroke three weeks ago.

Leonard was a prolific author, who wrote more than forty books over sixty years, including Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories and Get Shorty. Starting out in the early fifties writing pulp westerns, Leonard would rise at five am and write until seven—five days a week—before heading off to his job at an ad agency. He credits the author George V. Higgins for inspiring his decision to write crime novels. In his acceptance speech for the 2012 National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Leonard cited his agent H.N. Swanson as pointing him toward Higgins’ novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It was a book that would change his career:

I got the book and read the opening sentence in the store: Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns. I finished the book at home in one sitting and felt like I’d been set free. Higgins moved his story almost entirely with dialogue. The conversations of cops and criminals, their voices establishing the style of his writing. I stopped trying to tell what was going on in my books and began to show it from the points-of-view and the voices of the characters—bad guys and good ones—the way George Higgins used his ear to tell what his people were up to.

Leonard raised genre writing to its highest art in part by stripping away its affectations. His much-emailed and passed around 10 Rules of Writing has a cult-like following among authors and editors, many of whom have the ten rules tacked above their desk. Number 8 on the list warns to “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters,” noting that in Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” the only description of the American and the girl is “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” It is their tones of voice that describes them, Leonard points out.

Many of his stories were adapted to the screen. Some projects turned out better than others. During the National Book Award speech, Leonard said of attending a screening for the “The Big Bounce,” based on his novel of the same name, “I came in a little bit late. It was about twenty minutes into the picture and I sat down. Right after that, the woman in front of me said to her husband, ‘This is the worst picture I ever saw.’ And the three of us got up and left.” 

He was much more charitable about other film and television projects, including Justified, a TV drama that runs on FX and was recently renewed for a fifth season. Justified features Raylan Givens, a deputy U.S. Marshal who appeared in Leonard’s novels Pronto, Riding the Rap, Raylan, and the short story “Fire in the Hole.”

As his career grew (he didn’t hit the best seller list until the mid-80s), so did Leonard’s stature as an artist. Michael Morrison, President and Publisher of HarperCollins said of Leonard, “Elmore was a true legend- unpretentious, unbelievably talented and the coolest dude in the room.”

Elmore John Leonard, Jr. was born in New Orleans on October 11th, 1925. When he was nine his father, an executive at General Motors, moved the family to Detroit. Leonard graduated from high school in 1943, did a two-year stint in the Navy, and enrolled at the University of Detroit. He graduated in 1950 and was hired as a copywriter at a Detroit advertising agency. He was a longtime resident of Bloomfield Township, Michigan. The Detroit News, in an August 5th report on his stroke, had this to say about why Leonard remained in Michigan:

“I like it,’ Leonard said in 2012. “Great music ... lot of poverty. I wouldn’t move anywhere else. Now, it’s too late. I’d never be able to drive in San Francisco or Los Angeles.”

Amazon Asks: Samantha Shannon, Author of "The Bone Season"


Young debut novelist Samantha Shannon may be the Next Big Thing. Her fantasy novel The Bone Season, which she wrote before she was 21 years old, is being published in more than twenty countries and has been optioned for film. She's even being called "the next J.K. Rowling," although that comparison seems a bit off (they both write fantasy, but the similarities blur after that). In anticipation of her August 20th publication date, we reached out to Ms. Shannon to learn more about her:

Describe your book in 10 words or less?

A gritty, futuristic fantasy about criminal clairvoyants – and their enemies.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Favorite books of all time?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; The Complete Robot by Isaac Asimov; Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; Villette by Charlotte Brontë; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.   

Book that made you want to become a writer? 

I honestly don’t remember – I don’t think there was one particular book. More a general love of reading. I first became fully aware of the concept of worldbuilding when I read The Hobbit, so perhaps that . . .

Most memorable author moment?

Probably meeting Andy Serkis – I’m a huge admirer of his work. 

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I’d love to be able to learn a language in a heartbeat.

What are you obsessed with now?

Game of Thrones – the show, that is. I usually make it a priority to read a book before I see any film or TV adaptations, but with Game of Thrones I’m doing it the other way around. I have read the first book in the series, though. Loved it.

Samantha+Shannon+credit+Mark+PringleWhat are you stressed about now?

Writing the second book in the Bone Season series. Although that’s also very exciting – I just don’t want to disappoint readers that enjoyed the first one!

What are you psyched about now?

The Edinburgh International Festival. Some of my favourite authors are attending, including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Kate Mosse.  

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

I have several treasured possessions, but one of them is a silver Claddagh ring. I bought it from Galway when I visited Ireland in 2012. 

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

The Night Rainbow
by Claire King. Gorgeous book: vividly descriptive with a very memorable voice.

What's the last dream you remember?

Being shouted at by one of my characters as he rode a bike past me. I very rarely remember dreams, but they’re weird when I do.

Favorite line?

“I am out with lanterns, looking for myself” – Emily Dickinson

Favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Twitter. I probably could have written several more novels if not for Twitter.   

What do you collect?

Hardback books. I love them, especially when the designers put a lot of thought into them and they have lovely textured covers.  

What's next for you? 

Book 2!


(Photo Credit: Mark Pringle)

"Save Yourself" Author Kelly Braffet Emails with her Husband, Owen King (who is also an Author)


One of our Best of the Month selections in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense was published this week, and we have an exchange between the author and her husband (he's also an author). Kelly Braffet's new thriller Save Yourself has been getting some great reviews. Dennis Lehane called it an "electrifying, tomahawk missile of a thriller"—and's Laura Miller says, "The tension Braffet generates becomes nearly unbearable, and the conclusion, when it comes, feels satisfying and thoroughly earned."

In this interview, Owen and Kelly email back and forth from separate rooms of the same house to discuss Save Yourself.


OWEN KING: Save Yourself has three perspectives, and I suspect that the first of those perspectives, Patrick Cusimano’s, is going to be the subject of fascination and argument for lots of readers. Patrick works the zombie shift at a convenience store; his father is in prison for a drunk driving accident that caused the death of a child; he’s simultaneously attracted to his brother’s girlfriend and a girl in high school; and he has aggressively awful taste in music. But one of the great magic tricks of the novel is that he is so damned likeable! How did you pull that off? Where did Patrick come from?

KELLY BRAFFET: “Aggressively awful”? Have you never heard The Dark Side of the Moon? I love you, life partner, but I am shaking my head sadly at you. That’s right: sadly.

Anyway: I’m glad you find Patrick likeable. I always have. He’s a smart guy who grew up in a family where being smart wasn’t particularly valued, so he ends up leading a not-particularly-smart life. When we meet him, he’s just starting to realize that. Which I think we generally find sympathetic: we don’t necessarily love losers, but we love losers who try to turn their lives around. He hasn’t turned things around yet; at the beginning of the book he still has many, many more terrible decisions to make, but he’s at least realized, in large part because of his father’s accident, that the road he’s traveling isn’t going anywhere. The question is whether or not he can switch directions. He has no idea where to start, even.

Also, Patrick isn’t a callous person. He’s genuinely horrified by and ashamed of what his father has done. I tried to show that as soon as I could, so that readers knew out of the gate how damaged and vulnerable he was. It’s fair to accuse Patrick of making abysmally bad decisions, but I don’t think anyone could argue that he’s without a conscience.

OWEN KING: The other two perspectives in the novel belong to Verna, the younger sister of Layla, the teenager that Patrick finds himself involved with, and Caro, the girlfriend of Patrick’s not wholly unappealing, but somewhat stolid, older brother Mike. The result is a narrative that is built with remarkable intricacy and sympathy. The way these people fit together is continuously surprising and often very moving. I know that you started with Patrick. Did the shape of the story suggest the other perspectives, or did the other perspectives suggest the shape of the story?

KELLY BRAFFET: My initial idea was to put Patrick, who doesn’t believe in anything, into conflict with a girl from a family where belief is central. That turned out to be Layla, but as the story developed, it started to feel like telling the story from Layla’s point of view gave too much away. So I pulled back to her little sister. And the more I wrote, the more I realized that Caro needed a few chapters of her own, for the opposite reason: if she never had a chance to tell her story, if we don’t know her history and how she feels about the life she’s drifted into, then it’s hard to understand why any man in the book would find her compelling. If readers were going to buy Patrick’s friendship with Layla, some things had to remain hidden. If they were going to buy his friendship with Caro, some things had to be explained.

I will say that, throughout the book, it was a challenge to find ways to make sure that the reader knew enough, particularly with Layla, who lives quite a bit of her life outside the narration of the story. Anything we end up knowing about that life, we know because she tells either Patrick or Verna, and creating situations where that telling seemed natural was a little tricky. She’s not a person who spills her guts every five minutes.

OWEN KING: I’m glad you brought up the issue of belief in the novel. Layla and Verna Elshere’s parents have built quite the cottage industry selling “purity rings” to teenage girls, and they have raised a fair amount of—ahem—hell in their community about the public school biology curriculum. To an unapologetically secular progressive like yours truly, this is pretty loaded stuff. How did you approach the subject? Did your own beliefs change at all during the writing of Save Yourself?

KELLY BRAFFET: My original idea with the home church was to go completely beyond the pale: snake-handling, strychnine, the whole signs-and-wonders hog. But the more research I did, the clearer it became that it would be more interesting, and more compelling, to make him [Jeff Elshere] an ordinary person who really does think he’s doing what’s best for his daughters and for the world at large. When I was writing him, I didn’t necessarily want to create a character that evangelical readers would see themselves in, but I did want him to at least seem familiar. And I hope that all of my readers find him at least a little sympathetic, even if they disagree with ninety percent of what he believes.

As for my own personal beliefs—my parents aren’t particularly religious people, but it’s inarguable that I grew up in a Christianity-infused world. When I was a kid, I knew about God and Jesus and so forth, but they sort of lived on the same mental shelf as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, because they granted wishes. (Although, since neither God nor Jesus ever brought me candy, they lived in the dark, dusty corner part of said shelf.) As an adult, I’m firmly agnostic. Which I’ve been told is impossible, to be firmly agnostic. But as part of my research for this book, I read Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, where she wrote—I’m paraphrasing—that if there is Something Out There, it’s nothing our puny little human brains can comprehend. That resonated with me, and it’s kind of where I’ve settled.

I do think, though, that I’ve come away from this with a greater respect and—oh, yeah, I’m going to go there, I’m going to use the T word—tolerance for Christianity at large. From where I stand, personally and politically, it’s too easy to lump Christians into one big, screamy, sign-carrying mass, and the true picture is both broader and deeper than that. One of my favorite bloggers, John Shore, is Christian, and he’s also one of the funniest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever read. His wisdom has nothing to do with his Christianity, but his Christianity informs his wisdom. This is sort of a bumper-sticker thing to say, but it’s too easy in today’s world not to look beyond the labels, and we need to.

OWEN KING: So, this last one is a little bit awkward, but . . . Ah . . . I've enjoyed this conversation so much and I love your novel . . . Would you be interested in, um, I don't know, getting coffee, or going bike riding or something? I mean, like, meeting outside of Amazon?

KELLY BRAFFET: We’re out of coffee. I used the last of it this morning. Sorry.



Kelly Braffet is the author of Save Yourself: A Novel (Crown Publishing, 2013). Owen King is the author of Double Feature: A Novel (Scribner, 2013). They are both currently involved in many other projects, including but not limited to: Kelly And Owen Are Married: A Novel; Whose Turn Is It To Load The Dishwasher: A One-Act Play; and Will You Please Pick Up Cat Food On Your Way Home: A Rock Opera.

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